So this has been a surreal weekend in my corner of the world. If you have any contact with the part of reality that a video game writer lives in (on Twitter, mostly, let’s be honest), you’ve heard of “#Gamergate,” the
movement debate conflagration that has exploded over the past couple of weeks and paralyzed the discourse in video games and those who like to write about them. I don’t have the time or wherewithal to explain it all in an intro paragraph, but suffice to say that some gamers are upset about certain things going on in the games industry (Vox has a lengthy and detailed explainer from the perspective of a third party here) and they are being very vocal about it. What precisely they’re upset about, and how many of these people there are, is largely up for debate. Alongside #Gamergate has been a campaign of harassment and challenges to the integrity of prominent female writers and indie developers, a torrent that has gotten so bad at times that it’s prompted noted writers such as the award-winning Jenn Frank to quit games writing entirely in order to escape the toxicity.
Many supporters of the #Gamergate shitstorm have insisted that the harassment of women is the product of a few bad eggs, and not the goal. The real issue, they insist, is ethics in games journalism, which they insist is lacking—nepotism reigns, and many writers and publications have been distracted by social justice issues that veer away from the core of their focus and the interests of their audience. The other side, meanwhile, populated largely by games writers and their fans, has insisted that all the claims about ethics are beside the point, and that #Gamergate has its true origins as a campaign to drive feminist and progressive voices, the dreaded “Social Justice Warriors,” out of the industry entirely, with harassment and doxxing (the researching and publication of personally identifiable information on the internet, largely for people to then harass the owner of that information) as legitimate tactics. #Gamergate, they say, both began as and is defined by a pretext to harass developer Zoe Quinn after her ex-boyfriend made a public blog post airing supposed dirty laundry about her sex life.
As you can imagine, this has been a nasty fight, with both sides having strong reasons to believe what they believe but neither side having truly damning evidence supporting their accusations (although the conspiracy theorists on the #GamerGate side have a lot of unconvincing charts). Oh, uh, until Saturday. That’s when things got a little surreal. See, Zoe Quinn, who has found herself a target of ire and harassment since the start of this, has reportedly been hiding out in 4chan’s part of the internet for the last couple of weeks. Reading threads, lurking in IRC chats. And she’s been taking screenshots. Lots of them. And on Saturday she shared a few. Take a look at these for a couple of minutes. Go ahead, I’ll wait. I need a snack anyways.
Okay. What did we just look at? Well, it’s complicated. 4chan, in case you don’t know, is an anonymous online imageboard with a variety of sections for various topics. As a whole, the website ranges from being a kind of entertaining place that shares some cool wallpapers to being, in its darker corners, the Mos Eisley cantina as run by angry white people. Quinn’s assertions here center around /v/, th video game section of 4chan, and a related IRC chat (also anonymous) called “burgers and fries,” the name of which is a reference to the blog post made by Quinn’s ex and is a nasty joke about her sex life.
The screens Quinn has posted from the chat and various related places show people engaging in the language of strategy, discussing her and #gamergate in general and how to influence the movement in specific ways—one notable portion of the log she posted is a discussion of ways to intervene in harassment for good PR, to make it appear as if those voices are not a part of #gamergate. There’s also frequent mention of “blackhat”—a term used to refer to illegal and malicious hackers—and attempts to obtain and share personal information, with one user musing on whether or not it’s possible to abuse password recovery systems, while another discusses the need to find a way into Quinn’s emails.
— Adriel Wallick (@MsMinotaur) September 6, 2014
Most damning is an archive of a /v/ thread shared by twitter user @Snackdroid, which displays an early use of the hashtag #notyourshield, a phrase that appeared on Twitter at around the same time #GamerGate blew up. The tag purported to be an attack on “social justice warriors” by various women and minorities claiming that the SJWs (which just seems to be a catch all for progressives and feminists who want to talk about such things) do not represent them and that they cannot use these people as a pretext to ruin gaming, but in this /v/ thread it’s suggested as a blocking technique, a way to shift discussion on twitter away from attacking gamergate and a way to create legitimacy for the movement. In this context, it suggests that #notyourshield was a pretext carried out by 4channers using various sockpuppets (fake accounts, which Twitter makes very easy to create and use) to discredit people. Another screen Quinn posted from another chat (I can’t find a record of it in the logs 4chan posted) has one member, OperationDunk, reporting on the progress of the tag, saying that a small number of people were instrumental in its early growth. This same user pops in and out of the “burgers and fries” chat, giving updates on how #GamerGate is faring on Twitter and strategy updates on how to proceed without feeding “SJW trolls.”
— Zoë ʻTom-Kunʼ Quinn (@TheQuinnspiracy) September 6, 2014
What does all this mean? Well, as I said, the anonymity makes it difficult to tell who’s doing what and who’s just talking shit, but taken together these screens suggest that this entire multiple-week long hellstorm of arguments and anger has been a result of nothing more or less than some 4chan trolls pushing hashtags as a strategy to target and attack progressive voices and various gaming people they don’t like. It’d be hilarious if it weren’t tragic. If nothing else, the screencaps show that this is something that people on that corner of the internet—the same people in a chatroom predicated off of insulting Zoe Quinn and who treat progressives like cultists—took to quickly. For their part, certain people from 4chan have shared what they claim to be full chat logs with the Escapist, which can be perused in full here. It doesn’t exactly exonerate them. You only have to read for a few seconds to find people slut shaming Quinn and joking about tweeting out her nudes, and while the chat doesn’t show anyone making up the hashtag, it quickly becomes a target for support and signal boosting. The 4channer who talked to the Escapist claims that “none of us want people like Zoe, Anita, Leigh, Jenn, Burch, Grayson et al to disappear from the industry,” but the tenor of the conversation in their logs suggests otherwise.
because this is about integrity. not revenge. not harassment. not hurting people. pic.twitter.com/rSSm4ZJG4T
— Zoë ʻTom-Kunʼ Quinn (@TheQuinnspiracy) September 6, 2014
This wouldn’t be the first time 4channers have started controversies to push an agenda against their dreaded enemies, the SJWs. This past June, hashtags #EndFathersday and #WhitesCantBeRaped trended on twitter, supposedly the work of radical feminists. Nope, it was a 4chan hoax. People on 4chan just seem to do things like this every once in a while, and it’s an environment where any and all malice can quickly become drummed up into a campaign of stupid action. Now, #Gamergate has definitely snowballed since those origins, and a lot of people support and argue in defense of it that are probably entirely unconnected and possibly entirely ignorant about the connections to 4chan and the harassment of Quinn. I feel kind of bad for those people. It seems likely, however, that they’ve been had, and that they’ve been used to give legitimacy to what started as some sexist trolls just trying to start some shit.
One response to Quinn’s revelations.
So if you want to discuss journalistic ethics and the state of games writing, go for it. No one involved in this subculture would argue that there are not problems to be dealt with and solved. But this isn’t where you’re going to find that conversation, because it seems like those few bad eggs? They’re the ones who gave birth to the whole flock.
Jake Muncy is a freelance writer, editor, and poet living in Austin, TX. In addition to function as Loser City’s Games Editor, his writing appears on The AV Club, Ovrld and anywhere else he can convince people to post it. You can contact him by email or twitter, where he tweets regularly about video games, the Mountain Goats, and sandwiches. He has very strong feelings about Kanye West.